Does Laundry Detergent Expire? Here’s What a Pro Says.

published Jul 31, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Confession: I have a detergent stash. Gallons of liquid laundry detergent, two containers of powder stain removal, and several boxes of eco-friendly laundry sheets. You know, just in case.

Because detergent lasts forever, right? Not so much, according to laundry expert Patric Richardson, author of Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore and host of The Laundry Guy on Discovery+. In fact, he recently opened a natural-based specialty detergent and it had gone bad. “It smelled rancid,” Richardson says. “It happens.” Read on for more insight from a laundry pro on how long to keep laundry detergent for maximum effectiveness, plus how to store it.

Quick Overview

Does Laundry Detergent Expire?

Yes, laundry detergent (along with a whole slew of cleaning products) can expire and lose its effectiveness. To maximize shelf life, store liquid detergents — either chemical-based or natural — in a dark, dry place, like under a sink or in a cabinet. Keep powder detergents, single-dose laundry detergents, and laundry detergent sheets in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container.

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Liquid Detergents

Unopened chemical-based laundry detergent (think: Tide and Gain) may start to lose its effectiveness nine months to a year after the purchase date. Opened detergent should be used within six months for best results. After these dates, you can still use the product; it just won’t be optimal.

Natural or plant-based liquid detergents, like Branch Basics The Concentrate or Dirty Labs Bio Enzyme Laundry Detergent, have a shorter shelf life, Richardson says. For either, note changes in smell and color. This may mean the detergent is past its expiration or best-used-by date.

Best Way to Store Liquid Detergent 

Liquid detergents — either chemical-based or natural — should be stored in a dark, dry place, like under a sink or in a cabinet. And as tempting as it may be to empty the jug of detergent into cute glass containers, Richardson says to not do it. “Detergents have enzymes and things that break down other fibers. That’s what they’re meant to do — and their packaging is the best thing to hold them in,” he says.

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Powder Detergents

Richardson says powder formula laundry detergents don’t expire or lose their effectiveness unless they’ve been exposed to moisture. In fact, he once went to an estate sale just to buy powder detergent from the ‘60s. (The boxes were sealed.) And it still worked.

If the powder is exposed to moisture or gets wet, the product may harden or turn cakey. It might not dissolve properly, either, and sometimes mildew can form.

Best Way to Store Powder Detergent

Keep powder detergents in a cool, dry place and an airtight container.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Single-Dose Laundry Detergents

Single-dose laundry detergents come in little quick-dissolving packs made from a very thin polyvinyl film. Once these get wet, they’re activated — so they won’t last long. Kept in their container, though, these pre-measure pods will last as long as liquid detergents.

Best Way to Store Single-Dose Laundry Detergent

Like powder detergents, these pods react to moisture, so they need to be kept in a dry, cool place and stored in an airtight container.

Laundry Detergent Sheets

Laundry detergent sheets are the latest innovation in laundry, and many consumers like the eco-friendly aspect of them. (No big plastic jugs, for example.) But like single-dose pods, these can’t get wet. “As long as they are dry, I imagine they would last a very long time,” Richardson says.

Best Way to Store Laundry Detergent Sheets

Like pods, these sheets are activated by moisture, so they need to be kept in a dry, cool place and stored in an airtight container.